Saturday, April 06, 2019

Russia Taking its Arctic Sovereignty Seriously

"Our task is to monitor the airspace and the northern sea route."
"We have all we need for our service and comfortable living [in Severny Klever military base, Kotelny Island, Siberia]."
Lt.Col. Vladimir Pasechnik, base commander

"In Russia, the Northern sea route has been described as a bonanza with lots of potential of economic development."
"And that's why there is a need for military capacity in the area."
"It is likely meant as defensive, but it is being interpreted by the West as offensive."
Flemming Splidshoel Hansen, Danish Institute for International Studies

"Norway is a small country, whose next-door neighbour is mighty Russia, which has placed the bulk of its military capacity right next to them."
"Norway is extraordinarily worried."
Kristian Soeby Kristensen, researcher, Copenhagen University, Denmark
Russian mini-submarine
The Mir-I is one of two Russian craft that dived to the Arctic floor

Russia symbolically staked its claim to billions of dollars worth of oil and gas reserves in the Arctic Ocean today when two mini submarines reached the seabed more than two and a half miles beneath the North Pole.
In a record-breaking dive, the two craft planted a one metre-high titanium Russian flag on the underwater Lomonosov ridge, which Moscow claims is directly connected to its continental shelf.
However, the dangerous mission prompted ridicule and scepticism among other contenders for the Arctic's energy wealth, with Canada comparing it to a 15th century colonial land grab.
Descending to 4,300 metres, the mini-subs Mir-1 and Mir-2 collected water and sediment samples from the seabed. Russian scientists hope the samples will shore up their claim that the ridge is an integral part of Russia.
If Russia's claim is approved by the UN, the country could gain rights over supplies of hydrocarbons that some experts put at 10bn tonnes. The ice cap is melting, making exploration and drilling for oil and gas easier.
The Guardian, August 2007
Image: Artur Chilingarov Alexander Zemlianichenko  /  AP   Renowned Russian polar scientist Artur Chilingarov holds a photo of the Russian flag on the ocean floor upon his arrival at Moscow's Vnukovo airport on Tuesday (2007). 

The Arctic has many contestants for jurisdiction by nations bordering that frozen sea and whose claims contest Russia's, including the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway. And then there is China which has no physical presence in the Arctic but would like to and claims observer status. The vast mineral and energy resources stored under the ocean and thought to be technologically accessible for exploitation has all Arctic nations interested in claiming ownership of 'their' portions of the Arctic. And some, like Russia, are particularly anxious and prepared to be aggressively engaged in pursuing their claims.

Russia has invested quite a bit of funding in its Arctic claims of sovereignty, upgrading and modernizing old Soviet-era infrastructure, and installing permanent military missions on its share of the Arctic where temperatures can and do plunge to minis 50C in the winter, with the short Arctic summers giving merely temporary relief while still freezing at night. Russia's new massive investment in its base between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea on its Arctic shipping route includes permanently housing 250 military personnel.

There, with sprawling new facilities, the base maintains sufficient supplies for over a year for fully assured autonomy. The sprawling facilities can all be accessed without anyone having to venture into the icy outdoors. The military personnel are responsible for the maintenance of air and sea surveillance at the facilities, along with coastal defences such as anti-ship missiles. This is serious business for Russia; any contesting of their claims, any sign of hostile approaches will be both monitored and responded to.

For Russia, in its view of Arctic security and economic competition, the region represents a vital priority in foreign policy. No other Arctic country, including the United States has undertaken a clear presence dominating the vast area, and a bristling military menace presence as has Russia. Its intentions were clear from the time in 2007 it staged a mock but serious claim of the Arctic seabed by planting a Russian flag and celebrating its publicity coup.

In 2015 Russia submitted a revised bid claiming vast territories in the Arctic, sending it to the United Nations when it claimed 1.2 million square kilometres of the Lomontov sea shelf, all of which it claims is attached to the Russian mainland, some of which Canada disputes. Russia's claim extends over 650 kilometres from its shore. To support its claim, it has spent massively on modernizing Soviet era installations, upgrades that no other Arctic nation has committed to.

By comparison, Canada's lackadaisical efforts reflect a total lack of commitment belying the government's claims of the vital importance of its Arctic sovereignty. The amount of investment that Canada has committed to shrinks to minuscule proportions in comparison with Russia's. A road completed to the Arctic coast at Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories and work embarked upon for a port at Iqaluit in Nunavut, the extent of Canada's commitment to this date, along with the first Arctic patrol vessel being launched and satellite surveillance enhanced with a naval refueling station on Baffin Island.

Russia, on the other hand, has launched a gigantic effort since 2014 to rebuild the Kotelny Island military outpost, neglected after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Where the Russian Defence Ministry recently showed off Bastion anti-ship missile launchers positioned near the shore and Pantsyr-Si air defence systems during a drill firing shots at a practice target. A large radar dome sits on a hill overlooking the coast, stressing the main mission of monitoring the strategic area from the base.

Full radar coverage of Russia's 22,600-kilometre Arctic frontier has been achieved through the expanded infrastructure, where fighter jets can be deployed to protect Russia's Alaska airspace. And its permanently deployed military can access new base features such as spacious living quarters, a gym, and a sauna.
1) North Pole: Russia leaves its flag on the seabed, 4,000m (13,100ft) beneath the surface, as part of its claims for oil and gas reserves
2) Lomonosov Ridge: Russia argues that this underwater feature is an extension of its continental territory and is looking for evidence
3) 200-nautical mile (370km) line: Shows how far countries' agreed economic area extends beyond their coastline. Often set from outlying islands
4) Russian-claimed territory: The bid to claim a vast area is being closely watched by other countries. Some could follow suit

Labels: , , , , , ,

Follow @rheytah Tweet